Railroads laid the tracks for local industry
Posted by jonathanwichter on March 08 2000 04:21:55
The Erie Extension Canal was in its heyday and the Civil War was raging when the first freight train rolled into Sharon on Oct. 11, 1869.
Less than two months later, Sharon residents saw the first passenger train. The death knoll of the canal era may have been obvious. The railroad offered a faster, better way of shipping pig iron from local blast furnaces, coal from local mines, and moving people. Although less obvious at first sight, the railroad would usher the steel industry into the local economy.
As the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad tracks followed the route of the old Erie Extension Canal, it led to Lake Shore Railroad and linked the industrial centers of Sharon and Youngstown by 1880, according to the book, “Mercer County History.”
That left the coal mines in the eastern part of Mercer County isolated from rail transportation. The Bessemer Railroad became the first to link Pardoe to the tracks in Shenango. The New Castle Railroad linked Mercer to New Castle.
Mining and oil companies started their own railroads so they could ship their coal and oil on the main north-south line, said Fred Houser, a Stoneboro railroad historian.
Criss-crossing Mercer County in 1869 were the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad, Atlantic & Great Western Railroad, Shenango and Allegheny Railroad, Northwest & Franklin Railroad, Jamestown & Franklin Railroad, Franklin Branch of Allegheny Railroad, Sharpsville Railway, Sharon & Greenfield Narrow Gauge Railroad, and others, including the Bessemer, according to “Mercer County History.”
Not only could rail transportation ship coal and pig iron out, it could bring iron ore into Mercer County. In 1873, freight trains began bringing iron ore down here from Minnesota, Houser said.
“That was when the steel industry really began to take shape. This was the transition from the blast furnaces,’’ Houser said.
The railroads also needed steel for tracks and bridges, he said. Coal mining also expanded here because of the railroads, Houser said. Coal was a major commodity in Mercer County until 1940 and it was dependent on railroads, Houser said.
Trains also moved people, both for routine errands in nearby communities and for long trips, Houser said.
“Until the 1920s, it was the way you got between cities,” he said. The emergence of automobiles and paved roads marked the decline in passenger service after World War I, Houser said. But passenger service did not disappear just yet from Mercer County.
Erie-Lackawanna Railroad took passengers through the college towns of Greenville and Meadville, he said. The last passenger train left Greenville for Sharon on the first weekend in January 1970, he said.